Monday, June 01, 2009

Hiring Trends (That’s Right – Hiring) in the Nonprofit Sector – An Informative New Report

Although nonprofits just like other employers have had layoffs and part timing of previously full time employees there are still 24,000 expected openings for senior management jobs in the nonprofit sector this year.

This blog post provides a summary of the findings of a study completed by the Bridgespan Group and commissioned by the American Express Foundation on this topic. When I stepped back to look at this objectively I realized that I am working with three nonprofits who are planning to hire senior management staff – even as two of them face budget cutting.

The study provides an update to one completed in 2007 identifying the impending impact of retiring baby boomers on nonprofit leadership. This updated study confirms that the leadership deficit has become more pronounced in the past few years. The findings are based on interviews with 433 EDs of organizations with revenues of $1 Million or more and they are grouped into four key messages. The report includes the factual results of the survey and Bridgespan’s interpretive guidance. The guidance is directed at nonprofits seeking new leaders and individuals seeking to make a change from the for profit to the nonprofit sector.

Here are the highlights organized per the four messages :

Message No. 1: The leadership deficit in nonprofit organizations
remains large

The 2007 study estimated that there were 77000 senior level opening in the nonprofit sector in 2008 and that even with the bad economy there will be 24000 in 2009. Importantly, 22 percent of the positions filled in 2008 were newly created, largely due to growth and increasing organizational complexity.

Message No. 2: Functional skills matter (and are transferable across sectors)
Specific functional experience is the most highly rated criteria for hiring, with 79 percent of respondents rating it as “very important.” General management skills that are highly valued include multidisciplinary project management skills, experience of doing more with fewer resources, and flexibility/adaptability. These are skills especially transferable from the for profit sector. Participants responded that 50 to 75 percent of the roles they will need to fill in the near future require traditional business skills (finance, general management, marketing/communications, planning, evaluation, operations, technology, and human resources).

Message No. 3: Cultural fit is the deal breaker
75 percent, gave “fit with the culture of our organization” as very important to the hiring decision and Bridgespan says that from its experience this is indeed very important to the success of a person in a nonprofit job. They recommend that any candidate considering a move to the nonprofit sector be thoughtful about their own values and management styles, and about how they will integrate into a nonprofit culture. Working in the nonprofit sector will usually mean accepting a lower compensation and lack of meaningful career growth opportunities within the organization. If those conditions are important to an individual then the nonprofit sector is not the best place to look for a career change. The report recommends that when assessing candidates, nonprofits take a look at where the candidate has spent his/her discretionary time in the past and how that may matter for a cultural fit.

Message 4: Job boards, networks and search professionals most effectively connect talent to jobs

A surprise was that 49% of organizations are using job boards versus 44% using external networking to identify their candidates. Respondents said that print advertising was the least effective tool. Only 13 percent used executive search firms, but found them highly effective. When employers scan job board applicants without nonprofit experience, they want to see nonprofit board and volunteer positions on a resume as a way to communicate readiness to bridge to the sector and a candidate’s alignment with the values and/or mission of the nonprofit.

In summary, Nonprofit leaders are interested in candidates from the for profit sector but will be looking closely at critical skills, cultural fit and sincere interest in working for the organization. They are wary of candidates who appear to just be looking for a job.

Marion’s Comments
Based on my work and my personal journey from a Fortune 50 company to a second career working with nonprofits I agree completely with the report and I think it offers great advice both for nonprofits to broaden its search considerations and to those in the for profit sector seeking to make a change to the nonprofit sector. If this topic is relevant to you, I suggest that you look over all the resources at Bridgestar and download the full report. There is an excellent resource/toolkit section on this website.

Visit Bridgestar - an Initiative of Bridgespan


exitwound said...

As a mid-level non-profit employee, it is interesting to consider the issue of so many open positions in senior management. What is being done to prepare those at my level to assume higher roles? What can I do personally to gain the skills that will be effective to acquire and be successful in that position?

exitwound said...

As a mid-level non-profit employee, it is interesting to consider the issue of so many opening in senior management. What is being done to prepare those at my level to assume the higher level roles? What can I do, personally, to gain the skills to acquire and be successful in the those senior positions?

Marion Conway said...

Hi Exitwound,

This is an excellent question and I'd like to direct you to a couple of resources. Heather Carpenter and Rosetta Thurman are young nonprofit professionals and they both have excellent blogs that address these issues. You should subscribe to their blogs and join in the conversation.

Heather Carpenter's blog is at; and Rosetta Thurman's is

PhilanthropyJournal also addresses this in their annual professional development series at

I advise that you check out the young nonprofit professionals network. They recently had a national conference and it seems that they are a dynamic group supporting each other in career advancement.

Finally my own advice - It seems that nonprofits are frequently looking for people whoalready have skills in specific areas that they have the opening in. So, for instance - fundraising. See if you can volunteer for extra assignements in development and as you develop skill you are more likely to be considered. Another good idea is to always let your boss know that you are interested in advancement and would be willing to take on extra assignements that will develop the specific skills they will likely be looking for. Lastly, try to be objective about your opportunities at the organization you already work for. If, for whatever reason, it looks like it will not happen there, then look externally for that promotional opportunity.

Good Luck,


Marion Conway said...


You may be interested in's online discussion next week: "Grooming Philanthropy's Next Leaders"

Tuesday, june 16, Noon